Editorials

How military’s sex offenders avoid registering

The U.S. military is supposed to protect American civilians. But its policy on handling sex offenders within the ranks does just the opposite.

A Scripps News investigation found that when the military justice system convicts service members on sex offenses and boots them out after they’ve served their sentences, it doesn’t ensure that they register as sex offenders. That’s in contrast to how civilian sex offenders are treated.

Civilian sex offenders must register when they leave prison, as required under the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, and then re-register whenever they move to another state. The public can search state registries as well as a Department of Justice website linking all sex offender registries.

The military has a different system, one that effectively leaves it up to the sex offender whether to register or not. It comes as no surprise that many of those offenders fail to register.

The military’s policy is outrageous, and it’s resulted in hundreds of sex offenders flying under the radar, unknown to local law enforcement. Of 1,312 cases involving former military offenders, Scripps found at least 242 appeared on no public registries.

One of those was Matthew S. Carr, convicted by a military court in 2003 of indecent assault against seven women. His sick crime was to pose as gynecologist and persuade women to let him perform pelvic “exams.” After serving a seven-year sentence in a military prison, he didn’t register as a sex offender upon release and was able to assault at least two more women. He’s been convicted in one of those cases.

Military officials say they are working on a system that would ensure its sex offenders register upon release but argue that it would be costly in a time of shrinking budgets. Why not just require compliance with the federal law that applies to civilian sex offenders? The military doesn’t need to invent the wheel here.

Another option is one proposed by Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-California. She plans to introduce legislation that would create a Department of Defense sex offender registry that civilian authorities could access. The Pentagon’s Inspector General has recommended similar action.

The military shouldn’t wait for Congress to take action; that’s likely a losing game. It should move forward on requiring its sex offenders to be in compliance with the federal law on registration.

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